The Broad is Back!

December 7, 2007

Random unsettling thoughts and observations

Filed under: American culture,New Broads,students — by maggiec @ 5:24 pm

One unsettling trend I have noticed since I’ve gotten back is the terrible work ethic of my students.  Rotten wouldn’t be too strong a word, and I mean that in the traditional sense of decay.  I have spent much of the semester railing at them for being unprepared for class, unprepared for life.  They worry me, not for the sake of my course, but for the sake of the country.

Then just last  night a friend called to see how I was settling into America.  She has lived here 40 years, but she’s not American by birth, so she understands the feelings of displacement and of not belonging that have been plaguing me and my son since we’ve been back.  She’s a university librarian on Long Island, and while I was bemoaning American students to her, she soon had stories of her own to share.  Shocking stories.  Disheartening stories.  Together we lamented the state of the upcoming generation and what it means for America.

But she told me something scarier.  A friend of hers owns a company that outsources to India.  Not because of the labor costs, which are a benefit, but because the young American workers are just so bad!  They have a poor work ethic and low standards.  The Indians who work for her work hard and well. 

The company owner’s argument is why should she pay premium prices for work that is mediocre at best?  She would pay premium prices for premium work, but who in their right minds will pay top prices for junk?

And therein lies the rub.  She’s absolutely right, and what true-blue American capitalist would argue with her?  She’s not running a charity.  She’s running a business.

I’ve been trying to get my students to understand that I don’t really care about the course, per se.  I care about them.  And from what I can see, they aren’t ready to join the work force.  Some of them are already in it, in typical student jobs in fast food or retailing, but mediocrity rules there, too, as we all know.

I don’t want to tar them all with the same brush.  I have some hard workers who will do just fine in life.  If the rest of their generation doesn’t mess it up for them. 

And my friend and I both agree that it’s not the kids’ fault, per se.  Their parents, our generation, has crippled them.  Unfortunately, we have a prime example of what happens when spoiled, indulged and sheltered kids get into positions of power.  Look at the state of the presidency.

This morning, though, when I was trying to get myself motivated to face another day, my thoughts started to swirl.  Yes, look at the presidency.  Look at the corruption in our government.  The selfishness, the rot.

I’m back to the image of rotteness.  And I had to wonder this morning, has America passed its “use by” date?  Have we passed the prime and moved on to overblown and into the rotting stages?  Scary, scary thoughts.  I’ve often written about the ultimate and inevitable fall of Western civilization.  Greece fell, Rome rotted and fell, the Church-led Europe fell.  What makes us think we won’t go in turn?  It’s hubris to think we are the eternal apotheosis of civilization. 

In my  mind, I see America as an apple.  A beautiful, juicy red apple.  It’s always had a worm hole or two. It’s never been perfect, but now those worm holes are starting to spoil, and other spots on the apple are spoiling.  How long will it take us to rot through and fall to the earth?  We can certainly slow down the spread.  We could use metaphorical refrigeration, but once the rot starts, it’s going to spread.

This generation will have children and raise them, but by what standards?  Entropy isn’t just a theory.

On one hand, I feel I should be detached, just let history shape and flow around me.  Change is good, after all.  On the other hand, I want to fight as hard as I can to stop the rot and turn America healthy again.  One way to save rotting fruit is to cut out the rot.  To change metaphors, to save a body, a doctor might take the radical step of amputation.  Scary thought.  Who am I proposing to cut out?  Well, I think the nature of economics is doing the cutting for me.  America workers with lousy skills are being cut out, replaced.  They sink another step lower on the economic ladder and are no longer part of the work force.

That’s working on one level, but not on another, on the level of society as a whole.  I told you these were random thoughts, and part of me really wants to work on them.  But another part of me has to get to work.  But I’ll get back to this.  It’s too important not to.


  1. You paint a picture I think most people who are living in Western civilisation and paying attention can agree with (I’m sure this was discussed among university teachers when you were here in Sweden as well). But what should we do about it?

    Identifying causes is of course useful, but it won’t be enough. Of course, when I say we, I don’t mean individual teachers, because it is too big for individuals. Do you think it is too big for society as well?

    One way out would be to do as I’m currently doing, i.e., learning Chinese. 🙂

    Comment by Olle Linge — December 7, 2007 @ 6:32 pm |Reply

  2. Believe it or not, I just had a conversation with someone who is doing the same thing for the same reason! Great minds think alike? For my part, I can say happy new year, excuse me, thank you and count to four. Maybe that’s not enough?

    Comment by maggiec — December 7, 2007 @ 7:52 pm |Reply

  3. I can just imagine coming back to states after being away as long as you were – the frustration level must hit you immediately. The rest of us have had to endure the slow, incidious erosion of the work ethic not unlike the climate change problem….it has quietly crept up on us without any fanfare or loud voices of protest. I shudder to think of the world my grandson is facing. I hope & pray he will be one of the exceptions who escapes the horrid trend & there is hope for him because of the person his mother is & the way she is raising him.

    Comment by Dolores — December 7, 2007 @ 8:41 pm |Reply

  4. Maggiec: I think that is analogous to the bartender in Hitchhiker’s:

    Ford: It’s just that the world is about to end.
    Bartender: Is there anything we can do?
    Ford: No.
    Bartender: Aren’t we supposed to lie down under a table and put a paper gag over our heads or something?
    Ford: Sure, you can do that.
    Bartender: Is it going to help?
    Ford: No.

    Comment by Olle Linge — December 14, 2007 @ 12:19 pm |Reply

  5. Meh, paper bag.

    Comment by Olle Linge — December 14, 2007 @ 12:20 pm |Reply

  6. […] to go poking into places I usually don’t poke.  I’ve written in the past about the America-Roman Empire analogy but lately, I’m seeing another, scarier relationship. I’m thinking America-Court of […]

    Pingback by Bumpy ride on the information highway « The Broad is Back! — March 21, 2010 @ 4:54 pm |Reply

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